I've seen similar questions relating to Genesis 16 and others relating to Genesis 21, but I haven't seen one which treats both chapters in relation to each other, so I was curious as to how they fit. Briefly, in Genesis 16, Hagar flees from Sarah but is told by God to return. In Genesis 21, Sarah tells Abraham to send Hagar aways and God tells Abraham that he should. I know considerable time has passed between these two events, during which Ishmael was born and cared for by Abraham's family, but why would God give Hagar seemingly contradictory commands, first to stay with Abraham and then to leave Abraham?

Obviously God knew ahead of time that He would send Hagar away and that Ishmael wouldn't be able to live alongside Isaac. In Genesis 21, God states Hagar should leave for the sake of Isaac's promised blessing, seeming to me to speak of not wanting Ishmael as a rival for his inheritance. Yet, if that is so, he would have been a rival from the beginning, so why have him be born and raised in Abraham's tent at all?

Yes, it was likely easier for Hagar to raise a child in the lap of luxury while under Abraham's care, but God provided for her in the desert and she and Ishmael were able to establish themselves in Paran. It's not as though Ishmael was a full grown man at that point either, he was a teenager of about 14 years. So he wasn't able to settle the land or provide for his mother as well while so young. In fact, in the desert, it is his mother who has to provide for him, getting him the water God provided. So, if God was waiting for Ishmael to grow, why didn't He wait longer? And if it's not, why did God let him wait so long?

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    – agarza
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


You want to know how chapter 16 of Genesis "fits" with chapter 21.

Abram was 86 years old when his barren wife gave him her servant-maid for the express purpose of producing children. Succeeding in becoming pregnant by Abram, Hagar then despised Sarai, which resulted in Hagar being cast out. An angel found her on the verge of death, telling her to return, and that the son to be born would be called Ishmael, and be antagonistic in nature.

Fast-forward to chapter 21 when Abraham was 100 years of age. God had changed his name to Abraham, and then fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Sarah who miraculously conceived by Abraham and bore the first child of the couple. On the feast-day of Isaac's weaning, Ishmael the 14-tear-old mocked little Isaac. That infuriated Sarah (again) who told Abraham:

"Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac." Then God told Abraham : "Let it not be grievous in thy sight, because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman. In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed." Genesis 21:9-13 A.V.

This is a key point. The explanation of its significance does not arise in the Bible until the New Testament, when the apostle Paul explains it all. Galatians chapter 4 goes into the details. The previous chapter has explained how certain Jews and Gentiles are counted by God as true spiritual heirs of Abraham. Now comes the explanation of the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, and their respective sons.

Those who are spiritual sons of God are heirs of God, through Christ (putting their faith in him). From verse 22 comes the revealing of the historic account:

"For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory, for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Galatians 4:22-31 A.V.

That's how the two Genesis chapter 'fit'. The explanation in Galatians reveals the spiritual significance of those earthly, historic events regarding two women and two sons. Those with faith in Christ become heirs of Christ - "Wherefore thou are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Galatians 4:7). They are free in Christ as represented by Sarah and her miraculous child of promise, Isaac. They inherit spiritually, as rightful heirs. But those who are in spiritual bondage, not miraculously set free in Christ, are represented by Hagar and her son.

  • +1. Very good answer.
    – Dottard
    Sep 19, 2023 at 20:41

A possible answer is available if one is willing to accept the idea that there are multiple sources in the text of Genesis, so that what we have today is two versions of the same story. Originally both stories portrayed Ishmael as a little boy. This is the proposition of biblical scholars who accept the documentary hypothesis.

In this case, the hypothesis would be that chapter 16's version is from the "J" source, where God is called Yahweh/Jehovah (translated at the LORD). The account in chapter 21 uses the name Elohim for God and is thus usually attributed to the "E" source with possible influences from "P" (the priestly source) as well. It is from the P source (17:25) that we learn Ishmael's age or 13 at the time of his circumcision. Since the "E" story was included after the circumcision story, the text attempts to portray Ishmael as a teenager, but it does not entirely succeed, for Hagar still carries him on her back and puts him down in the bushes as she would a small child. The New American Bible Revised Edition explains of the story in chapter 21:

Abraham put the bread and the waterskin on Hagar’s back, while her son apparently walked beside her. In this way the traditional {current} Hebrew text harmonizes the data of the Priestly source, in which Ishmael would have been at least fourteen years old when Isaac was born; compare 16:16 with 21:5; cf. 17:25. But in the present Elohist (?) story, Ishmael is obviously a little boy, not much older than Isaac; cf. vv. 15, 18.

The Interpreter's Bible adds that vs. 16:9, where God tells Hagar to return and submit to he mistress, is a connecting link between the two stories, not part of the original "J" version.

Conclusion: According to the documentary hypothesis, it would not actually be a question of God waiting for Ishmael to grow. The fact that she "carried the child on her back" etc. in chapter 21 means that he was actually still a little a boy in both stories. Two versions of the story of Hagar's expulsion evolved independently; later, an editor included both of them in a way that makes it appears that one occurred later than the other.


What plans God has and why we cannot comprehend them unless it has been explained. From the evidence we have available, there are some serious holes in the Isaac / Ishmael story, which I will come to later.


  • Polygamy was practiced widely at the time, especially if a wife was barren. Solomon even had 700 wives. There is nothing in the Bible that says polygamy is not allowed.

  • From the evidence there was a bad relationship between Hagar and Sarah – which many households would have understandably had due to human nature, jealousy, such as one wife being prettier, husband spending more time with one, heir going to the eldest child not necessarily the first wife, etc….

  • 16:6 clarifies why Hagar initially left - “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

  • 16:9 explains why Hagar went back, due to the commandment of God. God's plans cannot be questioned.

  • The main issue appears that Sarah didn’t want Ishmael to inherit their wealth as she now had a child so wanted to get rid of him so Isaac would be the only heir.

Regardless, God was clear that both were the seed of Abraham and will become great nations. This was not confirmed to Isaac only.

Genesis 16:3

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.

Genesis 16:2

The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Abraham agreed.

It is certain that Sarah and Abraham knew the law and did not want to waste their time during their old age building an illegitimate family that would serve them no good!

Genesis 22:16

I promise that I will give you as many descendants as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand along the seashore.

Genesis 17:20

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.

Genesis 21:13

And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Genesis 21:20-21

20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up and settled in the wilderness and became a great archer. 21 And while he was dwelling in the wilderness of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

The Problem with Genesis story

The story of Abraham and the great debate if it was Ishmael or Isaac who was the one that was going to be sacrificed will go on and on.

You would think God or his angel would know how many sons Abraham had.

Genesis 22:2

…Take now thy son, thine only son…”.

Genesis 22:12

your only son, from me

Genesis 17:19

I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

How can Isaac have an ‘everlasting covenant for his descendants’ if he was going to be sacrificed? The first thing Abraham would say is, did you not promise Isaac 'descendants'.]

Genesis 25:9

Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael, buried him (Abraham) in the cave of Machpelah.

Clearly, they were still in touch – was there any grievance with them and who would be heir – see ‘rights of the firstborn’ below.

Genesis 21:14-15, 18

14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. 15 When the water in the bottle was gone, she put the boy under a bush. ... 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

Ishmael was approx. 14 when Sarah had Isaac (Genesis 16:16 / 21:5). Hagar left after Isaac was weened – so at least 3-4 years. In those days, someone aged 17/18 years old would be considered a man, he would be working probably in the field, and girls were married by 14 years.

He would have carried the food & water, the Hebrew suggests Hagar also carried the boy on her shoulder (the Hebrew translation 21:14 says ‘putting [it] on her shoulder and the boy).

Genesis 21:15, how can Hagar ‘put the boy under a bush’, he was probably bigger than her

Genesis 21:18, how can she pick the boy up, in Genesis 21:21 he is getting married.

Is he a little child?

Some prophecies of Ishmael's descendants

Isaiah 42:11-15

11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. 12 Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim his praise in the islands. 13 The LORD will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.

And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’” “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” (Isaiah 28:11)

Isaiah 29:12

And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’”

Isaiah 28:11

Nay, but by men of strange lips and with another tongue will he speak to this people;

Strange / another tongue would indicate a different language, ie Arabic as Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael and have multiplied

Right of the Firstborn

Deuteronomy 21:15-17

The Right of the Firstborn
15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

Many disregard Ishmael as Hagar was a servant/handmaid and that. Then you have to be consistent and you face 2 major problems.

Jacob & his four wives - Children of Handmaids

Jacob had four wives and 12 children that make up the Israelites. All accepted and referred to as a combined group.

Genesis 30:4 two of the wives are slave-girls Zilpah & Bilhah (šip̄·ḥā·ṯāh שִׁפְחָתָ֖הּ her maidservant) Four of the twelve children Gad, Dan, Naphtali and Asher were there sons.

The Bible tracks all their genealogy in (1 Chronicles 5:18; 1 Chronicles 7:12, 13, 30), none are differentiated.

1 Chronicles 7:40

All these were descendants of Asher, heads of families, picked men of ability, leading princes.

Should a 1/3 of the Israelites accept that they are illegitimate?

Abraham’s children (Hagar, Sarah & Keturah) are also traced in 1 Chronicles.

Ruth 1-4

She was also a maidservant/handmaid as was Hagar.

The story itself raises numerous issues including illegitimate sexual relationships, laying at one’s feet is understood to be sleeping with them, But putting that to one side & there is no indication in Leviticus that redemption of a kinsman’s property is in any way connected to marriage with the kinsman’s widow.

Ruth was a young widow and a handmaid of Moabite descent.
Moabite people were descendants of an act of incest by Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:36-37)

Boaz was old and must have had other wives/maidservants – but everyone seems to die conveniently to leave a clear legacy.

Boaz is not Ruth’s brother-in-law, nor does the genealogy in Ruth 4 credit Ruth’s son to her deceased husband’s line.

Son Obed – who became the Royal line of Israel – ancestor to Kind David and Jesus

Why is her lineage not questioned?


Clear evidence of human additions, deletions, and interpolations. The intention is to show that Hagar was not Abraham’s wife, a handmaid, Ishmael was an illegitimate child of a bondmaid, and Sarah a free woman. Isaac was a promise and unique and the new grace convent and Hagar was the old bondage convent. So, the family of Isaac will inherit.

All this is just a ‘biased’ interpretation to disregard the Ishmael lineage and the Arabs by the Israelites as the promise of the future messiahs/prophets as far as the Israelites are cornered are from the Issac lineage, the Christians are happy to play the part to argue the lineage of Jesus (can Jesus really be the seed of Abraham when Jesus has no father, it never goes by the mother?).

Jacob's children all respected the same, regardless of the wife’s status.

Pure inconsistency due to bias

Final note

Jeremiah 8:8

How can you say, we are wise, since we have Yahweh’s Law? Look how it has been falsified by the lying pen of the scribes.

  • @ agarza thank you again for kindly amending Oct 19, 2023 at 9:41

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